Voice actor David Collins was on hand at WonderCon Anaheim to moderate a discussion about Star Wars Rebels, Disney XD’s upcoming animated series set about 14 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. He was joined by art director Kilian Plunkett, executive producer Dave Filoni and voice actress Vanessa Marshall, who plays hotshot pilot Hera.
Plunkett and Filoni began by talking about the lessons learned from their time together on the wildly successful Star Wars: Clone Wars. “When Killian started with me nine years ago, I had only ever done 2D animation,” Filoni said. “Kilian was coming from comics. We were working with talented people. It wasn’t the look, the style of animation that we wanted. We got it where we wanted it to be. Rebels benefited from the eight years of knowledge executing that show. What you’ll see is a more unified look, top to bottom, than Clone Wars ever had.”
“It’s a rather new experience to have so many people reference Clone Wars now,” Filoni continued. “Vanessa knows it backwards and forwards. If I make a reference she’s like ‘Ooh ooh, I know.’ Since Netflix, that went up tremendously.”
A huge fan of the franchise, Marshall was exuberant in discussing her work. “We have so much fun I almost feel guilty,” said the actress, whose credits include Young Justice and Star Wars: The Old Republic. “I try as hard as possible not to nerd out. I’ve learned so much every time we record. It’s better than a video game, because I was by myself. When it was edited, it seemed like we were all in the Jedi Council at the time.”
Filoni said of Marshall’s role, “Hera went through a lot of development. A lot of you have wondered since the big Disney purchase. We developed a lot of the look of the show with Walt Disney Television Animation. They’re incredibly talented people, so to get their input on animation design was a lot of help. It was a benefit to making the animated style fuse.”
“A lot of this stuff is by Amy Christiansen. She’s probably a bigger geek than you,” Plunkett said, referring to Marshall. “Amy pretty much knows all, she came up with the basis for what Hera finally became.”
Filoni said, “Taking an X-Wing pilot and mixing with Han Solo, take tattoos off Aayla Secura, and there you have it.” He also emphasized the importance of having a credible female character. “I think we need that. I’ve got nieces; I want them to aspire to that kind of awesome.”
Filoni spoke of the influences for the clip from the series screened for the WonderCon audience. “It was derived directly from the [‘Don’t get cocky, kid’] scene in A New Hope. It’s a big statement to see something that’s so vividly Star Wars, that it’s still in the same hands. We’re bringing new talented people to Lucasfilm all the time. We wanted something that visually and thematically that you would see and relate to. I think that in the best possible way they are helpful at pointing out where they are not clear with the story and the character motivation. When you see a TIE fighter blow up, it’s gonna feel the same.”
“Dave did a really good job of painting an image,” Marshall said of the new droid character Chopper. “If R2 was a beloved family dog, Chopper is more like this annoying cat that can’t be bothered. I sort of substituted that I was talking with my cat and it turned out very effective.”
“A big part of it is fun, all three of us agree,” Filoni said. “Chopper was a challenge because R2 is so legendary. He’s a scene-stealer, we had to come up with our own scene-stealer.”
The droid and many of the themes were developed through an elaborate set of scenarios. “Situationals were imaginary scenes where we didn’t know what the stories were,” Plunkett said. “We started to say, ‘What if Chopper were in a desert, what would that look like?'” He also noted that Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy told them to make sure the show is bright and colorful. “We got to explore much happier, brighter colors. Clone Wars turned out somber and dark, lots of browns and grays.”
They then switched over to answering fan questions derived from StarWars.com, the first of which was about the influence of Disney after the purchase of Lucasfilm. “I knew these questions would come,” Filoni said. “I don’t know that they were too big of an influence. I respect that Disney has certain aims thematically. When you watch a Star Wars show, you know what that branding is. As an animation person, you have to respect the history of Walt Disney. The one influence that would show up on screen, I loved the movie tangled. I did ask the animation supervisor to take a look at the facial shapes and reactions used on ‘Tangled’ and see if it could apply on some level to what we’re doing. You can watch Mononoke and it can be dramatic but have light, fun moments. What you’d see in the animation style is that it’s more what you could clichely call animated, whereas clone wars was more reserved, more tiny subtlety. This is broader, it plays for the humor we’re trying to do and the drama. It’s been a really good partnership.”
Plunkett added, “You’ll be surprised how different it is from Clone Wars. It feels more like classical animation, it’s not so anatomically based. The facial movements, especially in Season 6, were very close to live-action.”
When asked about the mix of humor and action, Filoni said, “That comes from working on Airbender. That show’s very dramatic, it’s also very funny. It’s something I like about Indiana Jones and Star Wars. It still can be scary and intense at times. We’ve honed in better on how to do that.
“We started with Clone Wars, I thought we were pretty light, and at the end Ahsoka could knock heads off,” he continued. “My aim is to be as classic Star Wars, meaning what I saw in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi. You have a range in those films. From Jawas to Ewoks, to Jabba’s palace, you’re scaling up the challenge level. It’s a feeling you get when watching it, it’s friendly and funny and it’s incredibly empathetic. What you’re supposed to get out of the end of it is that you feel moved and satisfied and it gives you hope.”
Filoni also said Rebels will feature a much smaller cast than Clone Wars. “From the first episode to the last, it’s about this particular group of people,” he explained. “In this series, Hera’s in every episode. I think that’s going to be incredibly rewarding.”
Another fan asked whether we’ll see what Imperial life is like. “The TIE pilot and stormtrooper were designed first,” Plunkett replied. “It’s taken eight years, but we’re finally getting paid to draw stormtroopers. Even in storyboards, it’s already undeniably cool. There’s more space battles, there’s consciously more of a choice to get out into space and watch ships blow up. You need the ‘splosions.”
Filoni confirmed, “We won’t really be on Coruscant. In the original trilogy you’re never there. I don’t know that we would necessarily go there. For us, we’re dealing with this group of rebels in the Outer Rim territories.” Then an image was shown of an old Ralph McQuarrie idea for the Death Star placed on the surface of a world and repurposed.
A question about music brought out composer Kevin Kiner, who will return to provide the musical backdrop for the series. They then played the new opening theme, which weaves some of John Williams’ original trilogy magic with new arrangements.
When asked to describe the difference in working on the two series, Kiner said, “That was Clone Wars, this is Star Wars. Musically it’s a lot more of what New Hope was. George specifically didn’t wanna use Star Wars themes in Clone Wars; now we’re doing it and integrating them with themes I’ve written. John’s home run in Star Wars was the ‘Force Theme.’ I think the main title was a great theme, but to me that, the ‘Force Theme,’ is Star Wars. Finding a way to intertwine it with the new Rebels theme was a total light bulb epiphany. I’m really privileged to be part of this great myth of the 20th century.”